Thursday, September 1, 2016

Technology Infusion and the Classroom: Coaching Matters

AdvancED has published a 10-page paper titled "The Paradox of Classroom Technology: Despite Proliferation and Access, Students Not Using Technology for Learning." There are hundreds if not thousands of consultants and full-time people who are working with schools and districts, all of us yammering about technology integration. We're still answering the question "Why use technology?" for some just as we're helping teachers respond to the question "How do I use technology?" What this paper notes is that "After conducting over 140,000 direct classroom observations in K-12 schools in the U.S. and across the globe, AdvancED has uncovered that there are still relatively few classrooms in which students’ use of digital tools and technology is a regular part of a student’s school experience" (p. 2).

At the start of the school year, there is a rather substantial collision. New students, returning students, late-arriving students, students with IEPs, students without IEPs who need IEPs, students with helicopter parents, students with barely interested parents or family members or guardians. Then there are the administrator expectations for how teachers are going to make this The Best Year Ever.
Then there are the district expectations about how well and how thoroughly teachers are going to integrate every single new initiative and from the start of the year. The start of the school year is like trying to enter a double dutch only from a high dive or a high jump. It is layer of difficulty piled on layer of difficulty. It is no wonder that so many teachers are exhausted by Week 2 or 3 of school.

On top of all of this teachers need to be able to establish their own expectations and routines for the school year, and they need to start teaching. They can't wait for all of the kids who are coming to school to come to school. (Note to parents who think the first few days don't matter: they do.
Now let's add technology to all of the usual stuff of teaching. For many teachers, this is no big deal. After all, they understand that technology is just another tool and they will implement it as they see fit along with the other tools they have at their disposal. I've seen teachers who get the laptop or tablet cart once a week or once or twice a month include that resource with remarkable fluidity. I've seen other teachers who use their 5 or 6 tablets as stations or centers, simply figuring it out. And I've heard teachers fret about the lack of time, tense as they even think about how to manage their precious minutes with their kids and fearful of losing too many of those minutes to the distribution and collection of technology. I get that.

So here's the deal: in my own work (p20partners) and the work I do for other companies, there is considerable coaching and coaxing about technology infusion/integration/implementation. We talk about processes and routines, about strategies. Last year I had a teacher who appreciated being able to talk through his learning curve of getting the laptops distributed to and collected from his 9th graders. It wasn't until the 2nd 9-week period they got it figured out and the suggestions for smoothing the process came from the kids. On the other hand, I've seen a kindergarten class operate remarkably smoothly as the kids go get and then return their laptops or tablets. Color-coding works, my friends. "Purple table, please go get your laptops."

But let's get back to the AdvancED paper. A key phrase for me is "regular part of a student's school experience" and the word on which I focused is "regular" and 20-minute observations of 40+-minute classroom periods may not be sufficient, though I don't have any information about the actual observation processes, how often observers went back to the same classrooms, if they went back different times of the day, if the teachers knew they were being observed and for what kind of research, etc.

The reason this is a big deal for me is that many teachers also struggle to understand what "regular" means and to what extent anyone really expects technology to be infused/integrated/implemented in their classrooms. After all, technology is a tool or a resource just as crayons, pen, paper, worksheets, graphic organizers, and textbooks are tools and resources. A colleague of mine likes to say "do what makes sense." I've taken up that mantra because, well, it makes sense.

We ask teachers to consider their standards and their learning objectives. We ask teachers to differentiate. We ask teachers to personalize. We ask teachers to create engaging lessons that will spur students to further discovery and deeper engagement which, we hope, leads to deeper critical thinking. We expect teachers to use a range of tools and resources, digital and otherwise, to manage the differentiation, personalization, and engagement.

We know that administrative and coaching support is crucial for teachers to be more comfortable with technology. We know that establishing school-wide if not district-wide processes and policies for handling cheating and inappropriate use is a necessity, and in ways that kids can understand, which is not always true of the typical acceptable use policy. We know that consistency of classroom policy for digital literacy and digital citizenship are imperative. Some of us know that the teacher librarian/media specialist can be a tremendous resource for helping with much of the above.

AdvancED notes that "it is no longer a question of 'whether' but rather 'how' to incorporate and leverage the use of technology and digital tools to boost learning inside our K-12 classrooms. Technology has the potential to be the great equalizer as long as all students have access (both inside and outside school time) to these tools" (p. 8), and that is the crux: student access.

When teachers can be confident that students can have access outside of the classroom, they will view using technology differently. But that slides into another topic which is the value and application of homework.

I believe one of our first challenges remains helping teachers think differently about how their students can take advantage of the resources they have at school when they have them at school. Period. I believe that good coaching can help teachers feel like they have a partner who has a vested interest in their success as well as that of their students. A coach can help a teacher think through the barriers and challenges that are specific to that teacher and be a sounding board for that individual teacher's students, grade level, content area(s), and teaching style.

As a coach I'm mindful of the fact that it's not my classroom and those are not my students. I'm mindful of the fact that I need to see that classroom and those kids through the teacher's lens and perhaps help that teacher clean off some of the smudges. I'm mindful of the fact that it's my job to be an active and engaged listener and my suggestions need to be as though I'm trying to stand in that teacher's shoes, not try to make that teacher approach a lesson or a resource the way I would.

In-services, professional development, and solid training are important. But good coaching can help it all come together.

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